Some first-bait casting out tips that everyone can use

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The past two weeks have certainly produced some crazy swings in the weather.

On the last Friday in February, I was basking in sunshine and air temperatures in the high 70s on the banks of the Juniata River while catching some nice smallmouth bass. Last Wednesday and Thursday, I enjoyed some great trout fishing on those unseasonably pleasant although somewhat windy days, only to be greeted by several inches of wet snow last Friday morning. But regardless of how schizophrenic the weather might be for another week or two, plenty of balmy spring days and the fishing opportunities that accompany them will soon be here to stay.

Over the past couple of seasons, many of the folks I’ve fished with have sought my advice on buying their first bait-casting outfit. Like any type of tackle, bait-casting gear performs perfectly in some angling applications and not so well in others. Primarily, a bait-caster works best for throwing lures in the 1/4- to 3/8-ounce range or heavier, especially for those learning to cast with bait-casting tackle. For that reason, I have always preferred to fish spinnerbaits, large jigs, bigger crankbaits and Carolina rigs on bait-casting gear. And for some reason, those lures just “feel” better on a bait-casting outfit.

When shopping for your first bait-casting outfit, the first decision will be whether to get a reel with a right-hand or left-hand crank because the handle on a bait-casting reel can’t be switched from side to side as most spinning reels can. When using spinning gear, most right-handed casters cast and fish with the rod in their right hand and crank the reel with their left. But traditionally with bait-casting tackle, a right-hander casts with his right hand, then switches the rod to his left hand and cranks the reel with his right hand.

That maneuver never has made any sense to me, especially since I’ve often watched the guys who do so pick up spinning gear and cast and fish right-handed while cranking left-handed. I’ve asked dozens of anglers, including several pro bass fishermen, why they switch hands with bait-casting gear and essentially fish left-handed, and most of them simply say, “That’s how we have always done it.”

I am eternally grateful that the fellow who sold me my first bait-casting outfit advised me to get a left-hand crank reel like I was used to as a spin fisherman. Learning to cast a baitcaster is enough of a challenge without also having to learn how to fish and set the hook left-handed. For that reason, I always advise someone buying a first bait-casting outfit to get a reel that allows him to cast and crank the way he is used to. Most manufacturers currently offer several models of bait-casting reels in both left and right configurations, so there are plenty of good ones to choose from.

My next piece of bait-casting advice is to get the best reel you can afford, or at least one in the $100 to $150 price range. I’ve bought a few bargain-priced baitcasters over the years that performed satisfactorily, but some were not so great and would have been total frustration for someone learning to cast.

Fortunately, most of the major manufacturers produce some great casting machines nowadays. I have bait-casting reels from Shimano, Bass Pro Shops, Quantum, Daiwa, Lew’s and Ambassadeur that are a joy to cast and fish with. Most models from these companies will have sophisticated magnetic braking systems that can virtually eliminate most backlashes when properly adjusted.

But even the most expensive, high-tech bait-casting reel won’t cast itself, so be prepared to invest some time practicing and getting used to this different style of equipment. Read the owner’s manual for your reel regarding basic operation and how to adjust it for proper casting. For the first few practice sessions, fill the reel with 14- to 17-pound-test monofilament. This heavier line will have less tendency to backlash than lighter line and is easier to untangle if you do have a few minor overruns.

Start with a practice plug of about 3/8 ounce, and don’t be concerned with casting distance at first. Strive for accuracy and developing the proper casting stroke and release point, both of which will be somewhat different than you are probably used to with spinning tackle.

Set the magnetic braking system of the reel to maximum or near to it, and begin to train your thumb to feather the revolving spool during the cast to prevent backlashes and overruns. As you acquire the proper touch with your thumb, begin to back off the magnetic brake a bit at a time to increase casting distance. After you gain a little skill and backlashes are kept to a minimum, begin using lighter lures and line.

Once you attain a reasonable degree of proficiency, bait-casting tackle is a pleasure to fish with, and you’ll understand why so many of the bass pros use it almost exclusively. Even if they do persist in cranking the reel with the wrong hand.

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